Interview with Jolene Lai for “Elysium”

Los Angeles-based artist and illustrator Jolene Lai’s stunning new pieces for the group exhibition Elysium continues to showcase her rich use of oil and velvety color palate. The intricate details within her composition is weaved a world of whimsy and melancholy.  Our interview with Jolene Lai discusses her post-show rituals, creative process, and desire to have a mini-Lai.

Join us for the opening of Elysium Saturday, November 10th from 6 pm to 9 pm

SH: What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What ideas or themes were you exploring?

JL: Mostly slivers of childhood and what it is like looking back at them from the perspective of someone all grown up. I’m portraying a certain sense of nostalgia through the juxtaposition of these two perspectives.

Key Keeper

SH: How do you approach developing a new body of work and capture ideas for pieces; do you have a sketchbook on hand or is it just a note to yourself in your phone?

JL: Sketchbook scribbles on phone, post-it notes, mental notes – I have done them all. Lately, I have been thinking about using a little voice recorder to document my thoughts like Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks.

SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?

JL: I like the challenge of telling new stories and subject matters with images I have yet to attempt to paint.

SH: What frustrates you about your work / creative process? 

JL: I need noise in the background when I work — it weirdly helps me stay focus on what I am painting. I end up spending a significant amount of time in the morning before I start work looking for a show that I can follow without looking at the screen but that is still entertaining enough. I have tried music and audible books, but find that actual dialogues between people much more soothing to listen to when I paint.

Lost and Found

SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece?

JL: ‘Key Keeper’. There were several elements within this piece that was challenging. There was a fair bit of fine work put into painting the ornamental frame. I wanted the bell jar to have some reflection but not too much that it might take away the presence of the key, so I paid close attention to that. I also experimented with various compositions and perspectives to see how I might best display the little girl in the bell jar and still have her environment complement her size well.

It’s a tiny 12 by 12-inch painting, but it involved an extensive amount of exploration and pre-planning before achieving all those intricate details and elements I have never attempted in previous works.

SH: Who is an artist; musician, director, any art form – who would be a dream collaboration for you and what would you create?

JL: The lovely band Cigarettes After Sex. I love their music! Would be kind of cool and refreshing to come up with an art installation specially created for their music and used as a backdrop for an on-stage performance by the band.

The Key

SH: Has there been someone or some event that has made a significant impact on you that lead you to where you are now? An artistic catalyst of sorts?

JL: In a weird way, Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ which I read while I was in art school. It left a strange macabre feeling in me about painting portraits. While I do paint human figures, there’s something about painting faces that I still feel uneasy about. In my earlier years as an artist, I tried to overcome this eccentricity by painting mannequin-like figures. One might also observe elusive characters within some of my later and even recent paintings that are portrayed with hidden faces.

SH: What’s in your toolbox? AKA what paints, brushes, tools would we find in your studio? What do you wish was in your studio?

JL: I don’t own anything fancy, to be honest. So one would expect to find basic synthetic hair brushes and a variety of painting products from brands that range from Golden, Liquitex, Winsor & Newton to Utrecht. I wish there was an extra me in the studio. That way, I could just dictate what it is that should be done with my little pinky while comfortably sipping an Arnold Palmer in bed.


SH: After a show what do you do? Do you take a long break, vacation, a particular ritual? Tell us.

JL: It might be a week of doing nothing after I have put together a large collection of artworks. But it is generally a lot of walking and exploring in my neighborhood after a solo show.

I used to get yummy Japanese ramen after an exhibition (be it solo or group). But since the waistline has gotten ‘comfy’ over the years, that has become a tougher ritual to keep. I tried to change the ritual to healthy jogging, but to date, that has only successfully occurred once.

SH: In one or two words, tell us something that you really like or resonates with you about the work of each artist in Elysium. 

JL: I think one of the really cool things about ‘Elysium’ is that it is an exhibition that puts forth bold and beautiful facets of women created from the perspectives of female artists. Each artist is stylistically distinct and very sound technique-wise and unique in the kind of narrative they choose to tell.


Interview with Lauren Brevner for “Menagerie”

Vancouver based artist Lauren Brevner is inspired by the rich culture of growing up with a mixed heritage. A self-taught artist, her mixed media compositions explore identity and self-acceptance, with stylistic elements of Japanese art and culture and reinventing the use of gold and silver leaf within her work. We’re excited to be showing Brevner’s latest body of work Menagerie in the Thinkspace Project room this month. In anticipation of the exhibition, our interview with Lauren Brevner explores her creative process, the foods she fell in love with in Osaka, New York, and her hometown along with the greatest lesson she learned from mentor Sin Nakayamal.

Join us for the opening of Menagerie Saturday, November 10th from 6 pm to 9 pm.

SH: What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work for Menagerie? What ideas or themes were you exploring?

LB: The term Menagerie is used to express my own experience as a female coming from a background of mixed heritage. I consider the portraits that I paint to be non-representational self-portraits. Each piece plays on the themes of captivity, assimilation, and seclusiveness, paired with visuals of exotic animals and patterns. I grew up with deep-rooted identity issues, the constant battle between seeking refuge within a racial group while still maintaining a true sense of self is something I think a lot of mixed race children battle. I wanted to represent these minorities as beautiful beings and portray them as strong, sensual and equal.


SH: Who are the models in your pieces? Do you search for a particular look or does the model inspire the piece?

LB: Sometimes the models are real people but mostly they are an amalgamation of many different characters, pictures, and acquaintances I’ve encountered. I do have a Pinterest page where I gather images that usually spark an idea but most of the time the painting doesn’t end up looking like the reference I originally began with.

SH: Can you tell us about your apprenticeship with Sin Nakayamal? How did you acquire the apprenticeship? What is the greatest lesson you gained from the experience?

LB: I met Sin through Osaka’s version of craigslist. At the time, I was looking for a job as a barista and I found an ad that was looking for an intern at a multi-purpose cafe and gallery space. After I got the job and began working alongside Sin, I pretty much became his assistant. I helped him put together art shows, prepare for exhibitions, and just straight up make coffee. Looking back on it, the experience I gained was invaluable. Although I wasn’t learning how to paint, I was learning how to think like a creative and how to live an entrepreneurial lifestyle. The biggest thing I learned from him is that if you want to learn how to do something, don’t hesitate, just put yourself out there and try.


SH: How do you approach developing a new body of work and capture ideas for pieces; do you have a sketchbook on hand or is it just a note to yourself in your phone?

LB: The very preliminary stages of a show are both writing and image collection, basically a mood board. Whenever I have a thought relevant to what I’m doing I will jot it down in my notes app in order to slowly build up my ideas. I also have a sketch folder on Procreate with all my preliminary thumbnail ideas for the show. It’s hard to say where the idea for a show really comes from since it’s usually something that builds over time, however, I usually have one image that leads the show. This time around the first piece I created was ‘Kurobani’ which embodies most of what I was trying to say and therefore became my title piece.

SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?

LB: Currently, I’m really excited to learn more about my heritage and my experience as a person of mixed ethnicity. I want to be able to translate this into my work and hopefully, other people will feel this connection. Most of my work thus far has been a journey leading up to this point so I am excited to delve deeper into my own experiences and see what comes from it.

SH: What frustrates you about your work / creative process?

LB: Sometimes I wish I could just paint, the mixed media portion structure to my work that I would like to distance myself from sometimes. On the flip side I think it gives my work a very distinctive style but I can see myself transitioning to a more traditional approach in the years to come.


SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece?

LB: The title piece Kurobani wasn’t necessarily the most challenging to paint but it was challenging to wrap my head around why I was painting it and what it meant to me. This is my first large portrait of a male, and more specifically the first portrait of someone with their back facing the viewer. I have always relied on the faces of my portraits to carry the emotional weight of whatever I was trying to convey in a piece so it was a challenge to create an emotive piece without showing his face. I’m very proud and happy with how this piece has turned out and I can see myself moving into a larger variety of compositions because of this in the near future. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to create something beautiful and different but also very meaningful to me.

SH: Who is an artist; musician, director, any art form – who would be a dream collaboration for you and what would you create?

LB: I would love the chance to collaborate with a fashion house specifically Gucci, Kenzo, Manish Aroura, Vivienne Westwood etc. A large majority of my inspiration comes from textiles and fashion culture so I would be very happy to see my work in conjunction with textiles or clothing design.


SH: What’s in your toolbox? AKA what paints, brushes, tools would we find in your studio? What do you wish was in your studio?

LB: SO MANY THINGS! Since I’m a mixed media artist you will find just about everything in my studio but my go-to materials are metal leaf, aqua size, brushes ( Windsor Newton for watercolor and anything that has a point for oil) Kroma paints if I’m using acrylics, a mixture of Windsor Newton, Holbein and Gamblin for oil, art resin, wooden panels, and sculpey, la doll and apoxie sculpt for sculpture. I miss sculpting and ceramics so I would love to install a kiln and an area for pottery in my studio!!


SH: After a show what do you do? Do you take a long break, vacation, a particular ritual? Tell us.

LB: I’m pretty exhausted after a show, and definitely the type that needs a break. This time I am traveling to Bali and Thailand for a month immediately after to get some serious R&R (although I will be painting a small mural out there!) My usual at home ritual is to switch mediums completely to fight off art block. It changes my perspective on my practice and gets me excited to create again (right now I’m playing around with quick gouache sketches for example)

SH: What is your favorite place to eat and what do you order in Osaka, New York, and Vancouver?

LB: I love to eat and try new restaurants so it’s always hard for me to pick one favorite. When I was in Osaka my host family always made delicious food but whatever Grandma was making was always my favorite. For New York, I would have to say this spot my brother took me to in midtown (though I can’t remember the name!) I love seafood and the grilled octopus salad there is to die for, pair that with their Lavender Grappa and you’re set!! In my hometown Vancouver one of my go-to’s is Guu the Japanese tapas style restaurant is a great place to grab a bite with friends. I usually order multiple items but don’t miss their daily feature as it never disappoints.

Group Exhibition “Elysium” Featuring Audrey Kawasaki, Fuco Ueda, Atsuko Goto, Jolene Lai, and Stella Im Hultberg in Main Room, November 10th – November 24th

Group Exhibition – ELYSIUM
featuring new works from
Opening Reception:
THIS Saturday, November 10 from 6-9PM


Audrey Kawasaki is a Japanese-American artist currently living and working in Los Angeles. She attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY where she was influenced by Manga and art nouveau. Her work depicts sensuous young women on wood panel, with a strong emphasis on line quality and facial expression.

The themes in Audrey Kawasaki’s work are contradictions within themselves. Her work is both innocent and erotic. Each subject is attractive yet disturbing. Her sharp graphic imagery is combined with the natural grain of the wood panels she paints on, bringing forth unexpected warmth to enigmatic subject matter.

The figures she paints are seductive and contain an air of melancholy. They exist in their own sensually esoteric realm, yet at the same time present a sense of accessibility that draws the observer to them.


The Tokyo-based Ueda creates surreal paintings of enigmatic girls in strangely beautiful incandescent dreamscapes. With larger than life flowers and creatures ranging from moray eels to butterflies, her paintings are like apparitions pulled from the shadowy depths of the subconscious. Her mischievous adventurers are innocent and devious, at times playful and others sinister, suspended somewhere between the waking world and the beyond. An inscrutable universe of lush neon chrysanthemums and florid skins, Ueda’s world is a hallucinatory daydream.

Ueda’s works convey the lonely meditative feeling of dreams, a world set apart from the existence of others and self-sustained by isolated dread and reverie. At times a darkness pervades with recurring symbols like skeletal hands and the fiery orbs, or hitodama, of Japanese folklore, thought to be the souls of the dead. Another recurring symbol that figures prominently in her works is the chrysanthemum, also a symbol of loss, death, and vulnerability. These surreal apparitions reinforce a sense of displacement and transience. Her lithe figures, often charged with a cryptic eroticism, dissolve into the webs of these conjured worlds; like figments crossing over into ghostly recesses.

The tone of Ueda’s works tends to shift towards a lighter and more whimsical extreme as well. Her girls are often surrounded by small birds, butterflies, underwater creatures, beribboned pets, and dazzling flora, in dreamily abstracted landscapes that seem to glow and hum with weird life. The combination of these light and dark extremes is often unexpected, and psychologically evocative. Beautifully illustrated girls drip with honey and bare skinned knees, while snakes, fish, cobwebs, and bright fungi surround and shroud them. Contrasts abound in her choice of palettes as well, with the mixture of deeply pigmented hues, dark blacks, bright neons and iridescent pastel purples and blues.


Atsuko Goto creates beautifully melancholic images of delicate figures cloaked and merged with natural elements, everything from flowers and butterflies to insects, birds, and fish. Her muted palette is as ghostly as haze, achieved through the unique application of diluted pigments made from semi-precious lapis lazuli, ink, and gum arabic applied to cotton.

Inspired by Japanese Shinto and the belief that nature is animated by divinity and sacred spirits harbored in every living and inanimate thing, Goto creates imagery that conveys this feeling of profuse life force and intangible mystery, offset by a darker suggestion of mourning and lament. Quietly meditative, her works exude a dreamlike calm and resignation despite their abundance of detail and the density of her compositions. Silence and forlorn composure define this existence of the preternatural.

Fragile in their tempered darkness, the works are subtle and near translucent – like the unknown light and strange optics of an otherworldly plane where everything is unsubstantial. A feeling of entrapment and isolation persists, however, in the quietude. Like hauntings from the subconscious, the paintings feel like faded dreams, surreal distortions bordering on the ominous. Unsettling, the muted beauty of these diaphanous idols loom, uncannily caught in a thin veil between worlds.


Jolene Lai is a Los Angeles-based artist and illustrator born and raised in Singapore. After studying painting at Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts in Singapore, Jolene studied graphic design at UCLA and spent a year working at a movie-poster design house, The Refinery Creative, before returning to focus on fine art.

She works primarily with oil on canvas or mixed media on watercolor paper. With bold use of color, shape and intricate detail, she creates images with a seductive aesthetic and subject matter that weaves in emotions of whimsy, melancholy, irony, and absurdity.

Lai seeks to engage her audience in works that are approachable, newly imagined spaces that the viewer is invited to explore on their own terms.


Stella Im Hultberg was born in South Korea, raised in Seoul, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and later in California. She studied Industrial Design and worked as a product designer before serendipitously falling into the art world in late 2005. Stella Im Hultberg’s paintings are conceived in varying combinations of ink, watercolor, and oils on paper, wood, and canvas. Her portraits of women are rendered in easy, flowing lines with soft hues that transcend the typical critiques of feminine beauty, inherent in today’s self-conscious society.

Hultberg originally studied Industrial Design at CSU, which naturally segued into work as a toy designer early on in her career. Work in the design industry serendipitously led to her building on her natural talents as an artist and a career as a self-taught painter soon followed. Having grown up in Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan, she has a diverse blend of cultural influences to pull from.

When not painting or drawing, she likes to eat, ride her bicycle, and play the New York Times crossword puzzle. After a decade in NYC, she now lives (and works) in Portland OR with her daughter and husband.